Photo Friday: Division of Days

In pre-Columbian Mesoamerica, the calendar originated by the Mayans included 260 days. The “tzolkin” or “division of days” displayed in today’s photo are described as ceremonial or mythological. The calendar pages are part of a series of Mayan glyphs collected by Robert Hall Merrill (1881-1955). Merrill, an engineer and businessman, was a member of the Board of Trustees at Cranbrook Institute of Science from 1944-1953, as well as a consultant in the Anthropology department from 1948-1949.

Tzolkins 6 and 7 from the Robert Hall Merrill Papers, ca 1922.

Mary Miller, director of the Getty Research Institute, describes the Mesoamerican calendar as the oldest and most important calendar system (earliest evidence dating to 800-500 BCE). The original purpose of the 260-day calendar is unknown, but there are several theories. One theory is that the calendar is based on the mathematical operations for the numbers 20 and 13 (important numbers in the Mayan culture). The calendar combines a cycle of twenty named days with another cycle of thirteen numbers to produce 260 days. Each named day has a corresponding glyph as seen in the photo above.

The glyphs are part of a series sent to Merrill by Edith Gates McComas, sister of Maya scholar, William Gates. This extraordinary material was transferred to Cranbrook Archives in 2016.

Gina Tecos, Archivist


Photo Friday: Excavation at Greenwood Mound

William Colburn, February 1932. Cranbrook Archives

William Colburn, February 1932. The William Colburn Papers, Cranbrook Archives.

Team of men at dig. Cranbrook Archives.

Team of men at dig. The William Colburn Papers, Cranbrook Archives.

In honor of International Archaeology Day, today’s Photo Friday is a tribute to Archaeologist William Colburn (1882-1966). Colburn, a Detroit native, first visited Cranbrook Institute of Science in 1932. He spent a few weeks in December of the same year fixing display and lighting issues the Institute had in the “mineralogical room.” It came to his attention in 1933 that there were multiple collections of mineral specimens held by the Detroit Museum of Art (now the Detroit Institute of Art) that were not being displayed due to lack of space. Colburn secured an indefinite loan of these collections to the Institute, and spent the majority of the summer of 1933 cataloging and displaying them. Subsequently, Colburn accepted a position on the Institute’s Board of Trustees, a position he held from 1933-1944.

Colburns sketch of the bowling alley. Cranbrook Archives.

Colburn’s sketch of the bowling alley. The William Colburn Papers, Cranbrook Archives.

"Showing field rocks on bowling alley after cloudburst." Cranbrook Archives.

Taken after the rain, the arrangement of fieldstones can be seen. The William Colburn Papers, Cranbrook Archives.

Colburn is well-known for an excavation he led in February 1932 of the J.J. Greenwood Mound, a Cherokee civilization near Dillard, Georgia. Although he did not find any major burials or relics, Colburn’s team did come across some interesting finds. In his report, Colburn describes the discovery of a stone alignment that he interpreted as a Cherokee “bowling alley” (a Native American game). A formation of fieldstones was found with a smooth hard-baked clay runway. A rainstorm shortly after the discovery shifted the original arrangement of the stones. Thirty-two disk-shaped stones with rounded edges discovered at the sides of the “runway” were used for the game. One of the stones was found with a chip that had been carefully repaired by the Cherokee.

Colburn's drawing of the mound site. Cranbrook Archives.

Colburn’s drawing of the mound site. The William Colburn Papers, Cranbrook Archives.

Colburn made several innovations for which Cranbrook became known, including internally lit display cases and back-lighting mineral specimens. Colburn  sought out specimens, making numerous trips to the Upper Peninsula, and even the Eastern and Western parts of the country, in order to build the collections at the Institute. Through his many excavations Colburn obtained numerous mineral specimens for the Institute. In addition, he bequeathed a generous amount of specimens to the Institute.

Gina Tecos, Archivist

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